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In the Garden

In The Garden: This summer try your hand at container gardening

Everyone would like a yard full of flowers, but we often don’t have the space, time, or energy for a traditional garden. Container plantings allow us to indulge our love of plants in a creative and exciting way. If you have a troublesome spot where nothing will grow, try planting an instant garden in a container.

A dazzling display of plants in a pot or hanging basket can transform an ordinary doorway into an inviting entry. Often a large pot is the best way to corral invasive plants, like mint or artemisia so you’ll be able to enjoy them without worrying about them taking over the garden. If you lack sunny spots to grow all your favorites, containers will provide you with additional growing space.

I call on my container plants to act as focal points and interesting accents and to fill those bare spots in the garden that occur over the course of the growing season. They are quick and easy to plant, portable, and the pots can be rearranged or replanted as needed.

Container gardening has become so popular that retail garden centers are selling pots already planted. Many have displays of sample pots for you to recreate at home using readily available plants, or they will custom design one just for you. Most of our favorite vegetables are suitable for growing in containers also.

To ensure success, use quality soil and a large pot with good drainage. By the end of the season roots will have filled the pot, so give them room to grow.

You can use just about anything that will hold dirt as a planting container but it has to have holes in the bottom for drainage or you’ll have floating plants after the first thunderstorm.

Poor drainage is the most frequent cause of failure in container gardening.

What you plant is a matter of personal taste, but always choose the healthiest plants you can find. There are no hard and fast rules to designing your container plantings; whatever is pleasing to you is perfect. For an ornamental pot I use the filler, spiller, and thriller formula of including at least one bushy plant in the middle as a filler, one trailing plant to soften the edge (the spiller), and at least one bloomer or something with interesting texture or weird foliage to provide the thrilling “wow” factor, but feel free to break the rules. You can plant all thrillers if you want.

This is your chance to try something different. If you usually stick with pastels but your alter-ego would love bright orange and lime green, go for it! By planting in a container you aren’t committed. If you hate it, you can move it someplace else or even replant it. When planning your creation, consider where you will be placing the pot – will it be seen from all sides or just the front?

Don’t be afraid of using tropicals, like colocasia, bananas and cannas in really big pots. In many areas downy mildew has put a stop to successfully growing impatiens, that old standby plant for shade. Try substituting coleus. They come in a range of colors and leaf shapes and combine well with other plants.

Browallia is a lesser-known plant that blooms in shade bearing blue or white trumpets on a compact plant. New Guinea impatiens are more sun tolerant than garden impatiens, bear larger flowers, and are not affected by downy mildew.

I know there is a fine art to container gardening with ornamentals, but I prefer the “jam and cram” method of planting. To create a stunning display, you have to get as many plants into that pot as you can, so this is one situation where overplanting is allowed! It is important to use a light and good draining planting medium that won’t pack down and smother the roots.

You are not limited to annuals or even flowers. Container grown vegetables are all the rage right now. Many are just as pretty as ornamentals and have the added advantage of bearing fruit. Grow eggplants or peppers in a pot along with some basil and use a frilly red-leaved lettuce around the edge. Scarlet runner beans will clamber up a teepee of bamboo poles in the center of a large pot while bush beans will grow around the rim. Plant some colorful chard or beets in between.

In a big enough container you can plant just about anything – even trees! Just be sure to group plants by their sun and water requirements. Because of the intensive planting, you will need to fertilize and water your containers often. You can use a slow release fertilizer mixed in the soil at planting and fertilize every other week with a water soluble fertilizer to keep the plants blooming all summer.

Deadheading and grooming the plants often will keep them looking gorgeous. Don’t hesitate to shear back bloomers if they look tired and leggy. They will reward you with more blossoms later in the season.

There are no excuses for not planting at least one container this summer. In fact you will most likely find it hard to stop with just one, but try to contain yourself!

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